WINNIPEG — At an age when many young boys would be content to spend hours playing with toy cars or action figures, Mark Scheifele was already focusing on his future.
The Winnipeg Jets centre’s father chuckles when he recalls a memory of Scheifele’s childhood days that was a sign of things to come.
“He would sit in this big white chair in the living room, eating his cereal as he was watching SportsCentre,” Brad Scheifele said this week from the family home in Kitchener, Ont.
“He loved to follow sports, and it wasn’t just hockey, it was all different sports. If it came between playing with toys or playing with puzzles or anything like that, he would sooner want to be the goalie and we would have to shoot tennis balls at him. And, of course, he’d say, ‘Another hundred shots, dad.'”
These days, it’s his dad, mom Mary Lou, older siblings Kyle and Janelle and countless relatives who are watching Mark on the TV screen.
Last week was a special moment for Scheifele’s parents as he recorded his first NHL hat trick in a 4-2 home victory over the Montreal Canadiens that was shown on Hockey Night in Canada.
“We were jumping up and down. Even the dog was barking at the television,” said Brad, who co-owns a bus tour company. “It was so exciting, and it brings tears to your eyes, too.”
You could say his son is also in the driver’s seat, slotted in as Winnipeg’s No. 1 centre since Bryan Little was sidelined after fracturing a vertebrae on Feb. 18.
Since then, Scheifele has eight goals and 13 points in nine games and was named the NHL’s second star of the week on Monday. He’s taking a five-game point streak into the team’s Thursday game in Detroit, a match his parents are travelling to watch.
His career-high 21 goals and 42 points in 55 games isn’t just due to his natural skills. The six-foot-three, 207-pound admitted “hockey nerd” approaches the game like a science — literally.
Scheifele, who turns 23 on March 15, began training at the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre in Aurora, Ont., the summer before his 2013-14 rookie season.
Roberts, who played 21 NHL seasons, takes a holistic approach with his athletes, including Jets forward Anthony Peluso, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.
Six days a week in the summer, athletes follow tailored training and nutrition programs. DNA testing even figures out how their bodies best digest certain foods. Chefs prepare their meals and give them plans for the season.
“It’s trying to get players to recognize the lifestyle they need to live for success and longevity,” Roberts said.
Scheifele has been all-in, asking the chefs to explain ingredients and how they’re cooked. He even has special mineral-packed Italian bottled water shipped to his Winnipeg home.
“I think the reason he’s having success is he’s a prime example of a guy who is very, very disciplined and consistent in his routine,” Roberts said.
Scheifele said he’s seen improvement in many areas. But while the Jets’ 2011 first-rounder (seventh overall) fuels his body with organic, healthy food, he still indulges in some treats.
“You do that once in a while with your buddies for a cheat day,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a little junk food once in a while.”
He’s also fortunate his girlfriend can relate to his dedication and drive. He and Dara Howell, a freestyle skier from Huntsville, Ont., who won a gold medal in slopestyle at the 2014 Olympic Games, have been together since 2014.
“The qualities that Mark has as an athlete comes from the person he is off the ice,” Howell said in an email. “He’s the hardest working, most humble, dedicated man I know.”
Their competitive natures do come out when they’re away from their main sports playing golf or bowling.
“We always are betting on who’s going to win that time,” Howell wrote. “When we go bowling, I always beat him. Always. Let’s just say it takes him a while to warm back up to me.
“It’s all in good fun, though, it’s just the type of people that we are.”
Fun while playing sports is something Brad Scheifele said he and his wife– who took 10 years off from her nursing job to stay home with their athletic children — tried to emphasize.
“They have to enjoy the game,” he said. “Even when we were driving home after tournaments and stuff like that, you had to always accentuate the positive. You never talked about the negative as far as how well they did.
“We did a lot of singing. We made it fun coming home (in the car) until the kids finally fell asleep.”